“There’s no way you’ll do that to me, you’re the kindest person I’ve ever met!” laughed Ye Lang. 

Zhen Xiaoyan pouted a little at that. “No, I’m not kind. Plus, you don’t seem to care much about me.” 

“Why should I? I don’t have much capacity for that,” said Ye Lang straightforwardly. 

“... Go to hell!” yelled Zhen Xiaoyan before disappearing for the next few days. It seemed like she was genuinely maddened by his insensitivity. 

Ye Lang didn’t know what to do. Everything felt tasteless without her cooking. Life was boring! 

Sigh. With her away, Ye Lang could no longer enjoy any of her marvellous cooking. Sure, he wasn’t used to them being apart but there was a slight silver lining to their separation. Their separation would come eventually even without the competition, so getting used to it earlier would do him good, Ye Lang thought. His only regret now was not thinking of asking Xiaoyan to prepare some of her cooking beforehand…  

Before the departure of the competing team, the emperor would throw a farewell banquet in the palace for them, which had meant that Ye Lang would still have a chance to see the currently angry Zhen Xiaoyan. .  

The palace was bound to be crowded on that night. It would be flooded with the competition participants along with their parents and also big shots lurking around to recruit new talents. 

It was a tradition of the kingdom to throw a banquet annually for the occasion. But throughout the years, the event was getting more and more lavish without any particular reason! 

In a blink of an eye, the team was now standing proudly in front of the palace, it was finally time for them to leave their kingdom. Everyone was in good spirits.

“If only I knew it would be this boring, I would’ve gone back to sleep!” complained Ye Lang as he gave a loud yawn among the crowd. 

“Don’t you dare!” challenged the seventh princess and Ye Lanyu in unison, staring daggers at Ye Lang. 

Today, the two girls would be leaving with the team. If Ye Lang had not bothered to show up, both of them would definitely refuse to leave the kingdom. 

“If I dared, I would be long dead,” retorted Ye Lang nonchalantly. 

“Yes, precisely. I’m glad you know,” a synchronized reply from the two girls. 

“I’m going to go look for fatty, I think she’s mad at me!” announced Ye Lang as he walked away from his betrothed and his sister. Maybe it was an excuse to escape the two girls or maybe he was actually concerned about Zhen Xiaoyan’s feelings, no one knew . Spotting her among the crowd, Ye Lang silently trailed over towards Zhen Xiaoyan. 

At that very moment, her eyes met Ye Lang’s. His approaching figure had brought out a shine in her eye, she was delighted that he came to see her off! From that, it was evident that she wasn’t angry at him at all.

On the other hand, all Ye Lang had comprehended from her disappearance for the past few days was that Zhen Xiaoyan was definitely still mad at him. 

“...Hey, fatty. Are you still angry?” pried Ye Lang. 

“Ah!” That caught her by surprise. She gave a quick shake of her head, “No, I wasn’t angry at you. Why did you think so?” 

“You’ve been gone for a few days so I thought you were mad at me,” explained Ye Lang unsurely. 

Zhen Xiaoyan stared at the boy before muttering softly. “If I was actually mad, what would you do?” 

Do you care about me?- an unsaid sentence. There was no way Zhen Xiaoyan could say that out loud, she still had a conscience- uh- she wasn’t that shameless either, unlike a certain someone! 

“I would apologize and coax you,” answered Ye Lang. 

“Really?!” Zhen Xiaoyan was happy to hear that, though her delight was short-lived. 

Ye Lang gave a nod before continuing. “Or I’d never get to eat your cooking ever again!” 

“Hmph! I knew you would say that!” Zhen Xiaoyan was pissed. 

“Hehe. Come on fatty, don’t be mad. Do take good care of yourself throughout the training, I don’t want to lose you,” reminded Ye Lang, he meant his words. He really didn’t want to lose Zhen Xiaoyan. His reasons for that unclear at the moment. 

“Alright, alright. I know you don’t want to lose your private chef!” said Zhen Xiaoyan, nodding along with his words. 

“Remember, no matter what, you’re mine. I wish for your safe return,” Ye Lang gave her a soft smile. 

“Cough cough! W-what do you mean by I’m yours?! Don’t spit out nonsense! I still need to marry someone else in the future!” Zhen Xiaoyan’s face turned a violent red as she sent soft punches to Ye Lang. It almost looked as if she was flirting with him… 

“You’re my private chef for life, you said that yourself just now,” Ye Lang gave her a shrug.  

“Hmph, fine! Anyway, since we have time now…” Xiaoyan started to reach around in her space pouch, “I’m going to give you a year's worth of food.” 

“What?! A year’s worth? You did that for me?!” exclaimed Ye Lang. He was in shock but his hands were busy receiving food from Zhen Xiaoyan. He carefully placed them in his space pouch. 

“Yeah! I’ve been cooking up a storm for you these past few days. It wasn’t easy to make this much, heck, I’m not even sure if this is enough!” answered Xiaoyan as she continued to hand him food.  

Ye Lang finally understood her disappearance. While he thought she was mad at him, she was actually hard at work preparing a year’s supply of her cooking for him! All because of what he said earlier! 

Ye Lang stared at Zhen Xiaoyan’s smile, a pool of regret surfaced within him. All he had thought of was to eat, eat and eat. Never once had he truly cared about her well-being, but this girl had him in her thoughts, always. Wow, he truly felt like a jerk… 

“Fatty…” Ye Lang started to get a little teary. 

“What’s wrong? Is it because I hadn’t approached you just now? Well, you see, you were busy talking to your sister and the seventh princess so I thought it would be better for me to come over after you’re done. But I was so happy to see you approaching me instead!” Zhen Xiaoyan was positively beaming with happiness. She was overwhelmed with joy seeing Ye Lang making an effort to approach her first. It may have meant nothing to him, but it meant so much to her. 

Even if Ye Lang had not approached, she would still have gone over to him and passed him food. However, the presence of Ye Lanyu and the seventh princess was a constant reminder for her to fall back and let them have his attention. 

From that, it was obvious she wasn’t angry at him, or at least her anger had always dissipated overnight after a good hearty slumber. 

“Oh, there’s nothing to fear about them. They actually like you,” said Ye Lang. He hadn’t noticed Zhen Xiaoyan’s behaviour around the two girls before. Recalling his memories, it was true that the girl had always seemed more reserved and perhaps, scared whenever around Ye Lanyu and the seventh princess. 

“I know, but our background is very different,” muttered Xiaoyan quietly. 

“What does that have to do with it?” Ye Lang couldn’t quite understand what she meant. 

“It matters a lot, but it’s fine. I’m sure we’ll be able to get close soon and I’ll become a great alchemist!” said Zhen Xiaoyan firmly as she clenched her little fist. 

That didn’t answer Ye Lang’s inquiry. To be honest, Xiaoyan’s sudden interest in alchemy had surprised him a little but he did know for a fact that she had been making lots of effort in honing herself in that aspect. She wasn’t placing too much focus on cooking anymore, unlike before. 

He didn’t know why she had the sudden urge to join the competition. His best guess was that it had relations to that. 

“If you wanted to be an amazing alchemist, I could’ve just taught you.” 

“No can do my friend. I want to be famous too, that way I’ll get lots of benefits!” 

“Do you actually care about these things?” Knowing her, Ye Lang was sure that she had no interest in those. 

“I actually do!” Zhen Xiaoyan hadn’t given it much thought either hence it was her only answer to it at the moment. 

“Is it even meaningful?” Ye Lang shrugged. 

“It is!” 

“I think you’ll lose interest in these things soon, we’ll just wait and see,” stated Ye Lang. There was no way Zhen Xiaoyan would push on to pursue these things, Ye Lang thought.  Zhen Xiaoyan was not made for such complexity, it just wasn’t her thing though she did possess quite some talent in alchemy. 

“Hmph! Don’t you dare look down on me! I’ll show you what I can do!” pouted Zhen Xiaoyan, a little annoyed at her friend’s distrust. 

As the two friends continued to talk, their hands hadn’t slowed down receiving and passing food. Everyone around was speechless at the amount of food Zhen Xiaoyan had managed to make. Just how much has she made? Amazing. 

The intriguing display was a short-lived disruption. Everyone was back to socializing and congratulating the team. 

Praises and boasts floated around the venue. 

No one was spared from it, Ye Lanyu included. At this very moment, she was surrounded by a wall of people and she found it very irritating. She had wanted to pull Ye Lang over as a shield but said boy was too busy receiving his food supply for one whole year and had no time to tend to his sister. 

Due to his absence, Ye Lanyu was quickly separated from the seventh princess. In reality, the two girls didn’t click well and Ye Lang was the glue between them. Without him, the seventh princess had long left Ye Lanyu alone.

The seventh princess had people to attend to. She was a princess and was very respected among the team, that naturally gave her a spotlight. After some time, the banquet dishes were finally served! The emperor has arrived! 

“Ladies and gentlemen, today is the day…” 

Just as Ye Lang had expected, the emperor’s speech was formulated specifically for such an event. Thankfully, his speech was not agonizingly long nor was it particularly short this time around.   

“And now, let us dig in and celebrate our future pillars of the kingdom! Enjoy!”

“Finally!” exclaimed Ye Lang as he pulled along Zhen Xiaoyan, quickly meeting up with his sister and found a spot to sit. The dishes were simple, definitely something one could finish within half an hour. It wasn’t an elaborate banquet. 

“That’s odd, where is Little Seven?” Ye Lang hadn’t caught sight of the seventh princess ever since the dishes were served. 

“I’m not sure, she hasn’t appeared since just now. All the princesses and princes are gone too, maybe they’re inside the palace?” answered Ye Lanyu unsurely. She didn’t know much about the royal norms when it comes to banquets like this. The last similar banquet she attended was a good ten years ago when she was a child, she couldn’t recall much. 

“Ye Lang… the dishes taste a little weird. We should stop eating these!” complained Zhen Xiaoyan after taking a bite, her brows scrunched up in disgust. 

“Really? Are you sure? I don’t taste anything weird,” Ye Lang and Ye Lanyu thought the dishes tasted completely normal, everyone else felt the same too.